Parents have been reminding their children to stand up straight and keep their shoulders back for generations. While anti-slouching reminders tend to be about the best way to present oneself to others, practicing good posture can also go a long way in helping you avoid chronic back and neck pain as you age.
What previous generations of parents didn’t count on, of course, was just how much time the average person — both kids and adults — would spend hunched over a computer, a tablet, and their smartphone screen. Today, slouching is the new norm, and it’s made chronic neck pain a top complaint in physicians’ offices across the country.
At Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates in Humble and Baytown, Texas, board-certified interventional pain specialist Dr. Okezie N. Okezie has also seen an increase in the number of Houston-area patients with persistent neck pain. In many cases, part of his comprehensive pain management approach includes postural assessment and rehabilitation.
Here, Dr. Okezie explores how poor posture can lead to chronic neck pain — and explains what you can do about it.
Posture refers to the way you position your body when you’re standing, sitting, or lying down. Your spine and its supporting tissues (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) form the foundation of your posture.
Good posture means maintaining a neutral spine position most of the time. When viewed from the front or back, a neutral spine forms a vertical line down the center of your body. When viewed from the side, a neutral spine possesses three gentle curves that actively reinforce its strength and flexibility.
As it relates to your neck, good posture means your chest is open, your shoulders are back, and your ears are positioned directly above your shoulders. This neutral head posture keeps the weight of your head well-balanced on your neck, causing minimal stress on your cervical spine.
Although there are various poor postural tendencies (flat back, sway back, and kyphosis), forward head posture is the postural problem that tends to strain your cervical spine the most.
This posture occurs when your neck is angled forward, positioning your head in front of your shoulders rather than directly above them. This non-neutral head position can lead to several neck problems, including:
The average head weighs about 10 pounds. For every inch your head is held forward in poor posture, your cervical spine must support an additional 10 pounds of weight. Just two inches of forward head posture can effectively triple the load on your cervical spine.
Forward head posture puts the lower part of your cervical spine into hyperflexion, causing the vertebrae to tilt too far forward. Given that your brain automatically keeps your head up so your eyes can look straight ahead, the upper part of your cervical spine does the opposite and goes into hyperextension.
This hyperflexion-hyperextension dynamic within the cervical spine can cause your spinal canal and its nerve roots to become overstretched between the base of your skull and the top of your back.
Forward head posture places extra strain on the muscles at the back of your neck and along your upper shoulders. As they work to counteract the constant pull of a forward-leaning head position, these overloaded muscle groups become vulnerable to painful strains and spasms.
Forward head posture is frequently accompanied by hunched shoulders and a rounded upper back. As time goes on, this postural imbalance can lead to persistent discomfort in your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
The longer you maintain poor posture — whether you tend to hunch over your computer or smartphone all day, slouch on the couch every evening, or both — the more likely you are to experience neck pain and stiffness. Long-term effects of forward head posture include:
Luckily, many of these problems and risks can be corrected, prevented, or minimized through postural rehabilitation. It’s also helpful to recognize how your posture might be missing the mark. In addition, you can learn stretches and other techniques to help address any existing imbalances, and most importantly, actively practice good posture.
In most neck pain cases, poor posture is at least part of the underlying problem. If your neck pain problem has other underlying components that require an equal measure of attention, Dr. Okezie and our skilled team offer a full scope of pain relief procedures at Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates.
Whether you’d like to improve your posture, get to the bottom of a bothersome neck pain problem, or both, we can help. Call your nearest office in Humble or Baytown, Texas, today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Okezie any time.